Welcome to my inaugural Travel Tuesday post. These posts will provide vague and general descriptions of places, usable as sources of inspiration, or, with a little extra crunch (which will often be found in other posts of the week), a full location for adventuring. While in the future I intend to post a bit of the Countless Worlds campaign setting, for the first week (at least), I’m trying to offer things that are relatively suitable for the Nentir Vale, or whatever setting you want. Today, welcome to the Mirror Mines of Belness.
The village of Belness was once a tiny village of foresters. The River An’Bell flew down from the mountains towards the plainsfolk to the south, and the Belness people placed their lumber in the river and lived off the trade. Then, twelve years ago, came the great Storm of Wolfwinter, a torrential thunderstorm that lasted for three days and three nights. Some say that the storm was the repercussions of a druid’s duel, others say that a great storm titan had been slain, still others say that it was punishment for some wickedness of the mountain dwarves. Whatever caused the storm, the storm caused the slide.
Half a mile to the south of Belness, an entire cliff face disappeared in a night, washed away by the rain. Villagers soon discovered that under that hill lay deep, rich veins of mirror crystal*, powerful stones capable of warping space and time. Highly prized by wizards (and the kings who dealt with them), within months Belness was transformed into a mining town gripped by a powerful rush.
What was once a small village of hundreds was a camp-town of thousands by the end of the year. Thousands of miners, dwarven and human, descended on the town to eke out a fortune. The mirror crystal went deep into the mountain, and many, many people made their fortune their in the Mines. Hundreds of feet of tunnel were excavated every day, creating new hills to the south of Belness. The An’Bell River was diverted into the mines to wash away yet more earth (over the protests of some of the town elders). An entire industry of support for the miners cropped up in new tent cities around the mine. Wizards and whores, blacksmiths and outfitters, the Mirror Mines of Belness brought them all.
But like all mines, the ones beneath Belness dried up. It’s been three years since the last major lode of mirror crystal was found. The camp towns have dispersed, and Belness is slowly adjusting to life without the miners. The nearby forest were cleared for the shanties, and river was diverted. There’s talk of rerouting the river back to its old banks, but that would require a lot of resources the town doesn’t have – surprisingly, little of the wealth generated by the mines stayed in the town.
The miners haven’t completely left – there’s still plenty of mirror crystal down there. Just not enough to support the widespread mining operations that were there five years ago. And without the king’s soldiers, where there’s wealth there’s trouble. Not too mention that wild creatures have started to take up residence in the miles and miles of mineshaft beneath the village.
Belness is bigger than it was a decade ago. There are fewer loggers, but dozens of miners still make their way into the mines every day, and they need the infrastructure of Belness. Beginning adventurers can find all kinds of employ in Belness, from escorts to rescue. Just wandering around in the mines, the adventurers are likely to find both trouble and treasure.
Belness and the mines are home to a number of interesting characters.
Brarani, Elder of Belness
Brarani is the last original town elder in Belness. Though Belness has no official governing body (all laws are made by the King’s Magistrate, who passes through town once a season), the town elects elders who act as de facto leaders of the town. Brarani, an elderly man whose family has owned the town chandlery for generations. Brarani is almost blind, wearing enormous glass spectacles. He hobbles around town, passing judgment. He was once overlooked as a town elder, elected to the position almost exclusively out of respect for his family and his age. But Brarani was one of the few elders who objected to the diversion of the River An’Bell, feeling that the town was being robbed by the new immigrants. He was right, and now he is as close the a mayor as Belness has. Newcomers would be wise to treat him with deference.
Oulina, the Neophye Priestess
(Note: I’ll use Pelor as a stand-in for whatever god of good you use in your campaign.)
Belness used to have a wise and distinguished priest. Then, when the mines opened, the need for shepherd’s grew, and tent-temples were opened around the village. Over a dozen priests of Pelor came to attend the faithful, and plans were even drawn up to erect a temple of stone. (For a while, there was even talk of a grand cathedral.) Then, the mines dried up, and the priests of Pelor were called elsewhere.
Oulina came to Belness as her first assignment, only recently ordained and given a position of apprenticeship to a more senior priest. Yet, when the rest of the priests moved on, Oulina was instructed to stay behind and administer the needs of the Belness parishioners.
Oulina is young, barely the age of majority, and many of the villagers view it as an insult that they have a priestess who is so young and inexperienced. But Oulina throws herself into her work, and for the last two years, has done a commendable job.
She is tall and a little round, with long red hair, freckles and dimples.
Iareic Gladhammer, the Horologist
Unusually short, even for a dwarf, Iaeric Gladhammer is the town’s horologist,** and resident alemaster. Iaeric came to town before the mines opened, for reasons unknown. He likes to wander in the forest and over the hills, with little interest in cities or subterranean travels. He has a loud laugh and is generally pleasant. When he plays, he drinks hard, but he takes great care in the production of his clocks and his ale.
Peruel, Belness Sheriff
A recent immigrant to Belness, Peruel has barely been here a year. Even so, she’s made fast friends with many in the community. A thick woman whose grace belies her size, Peruel is a hunter in the woods further away from town, bringing back deer and rabbits over her shoulders. She has a square face and short brown hair, and she’s not much to look at, but her eyes twinkle, and she’s a cunning prankster. Yet what has won over many in Belness is her innate sense of fairness – and it is this fairness that has led to the villagers to defer to her on judgments of the law and enforcement of punishment. Belness is a peaceful village, but occasionally someone gets to deep into their cups or too rough with their spouse, and it’s Peruel that the city calls to put an end to the commotion.
Jadede, the Hulking Wizard
Nobody’s entirely sure when Jadede showed up – some say in the last year or so, other’s say he’s been in Belness for a decade. The only thing people can agree upon is that Jadede only came here after the mines opened. The difference between Jadede and the other wizards that came during the rush is that Jadede stuck around.
That’s not the only difference. Jadede is a dragonborn, a dark grey with a blue mottling. He’s ancient for a dragonborn, and he stoops when he walks (though even with the hunch, he’s still almost seven feet tall). Jadede lives outside of Belness, and nobody’s entirely sure where, but he visits the town often enough that he’s made friends. He wears tiny little spectacles on the edge of his nose, though many believe it to be an affectation.
The Mirror Mines of Belness are home to many, many dangers that threaten those adventurers who are still green behind the ears. From miners to bandits, oozes to duergar, the Mirror Mines of Belness require caution in addition to courage.
Roll 1d12 (all monsters are from 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons)
- [Combat – Lvl 4] Duergar Mining Party: 3 Duergar Guards (MM2), 1 Duergar Scout (MM2), 4 Duergar Miners (Thunderspire Labyrinth)
- [Roleplay] Small group (3-5) of dwarven miners. They know the area, but are distrustful, especially of non-dwarves.
- [Combat – Lvl 3] Blue Slime (Keep on the Shadowfell)
- [Roleplay] Trapped miner. His lower legs are pinned beneath a cave-in, and the PCs are not strong enough to move him (though other, more drastic methods might work). If the PCs leave to get help, he’s dead by the time they get back.
- [Combat – Lvl 7] Bandits! 1 Human Knife Fighter (MM2), 2 Waterdeep Street Thugs (Dungeon Magazine 171), 1 Human Hexer (MM2)
- [Terrain] – Earthquake – The PCs are safe and their tunnel is stable, but there’s a cave-in back the way they came. Now, they’ll have to find a new way out.
- [Combat – Lvl 6] Pets of the Theurge! 2 Cave Bears (MM), and 1 Duergar Theurge (MM2)
- [Roleplay] The PCs stumble across an alchemist and his apparatus. The alchemist has set up shop and is manufacturing all kinds of potions (and will even sell some to the PCs!) The alchemist is non-threatening and generally friendly. An Arcana check, however, reveals that some of those potions are decidedly dastardly, the kind used only by the truly evil.
- [Combat – Lvl 9] Troll Bandits! 1 Bulette (MM) and 3 Trolls (MM)
- [Roleplay] A little girl is lost down in the mines. She’s looking for her lost dolly, and absolutely refuses to return to the surface without her.
- [Combat – Lvl 7] Troglodyte Scouting Party – 2 Troglodyte Impalers (MM), 3 Troglodyte Maulers (MM)
- [Terrain] Cave in! The characters are caught in a cave-in. Everybody takes about a healing surge worth of damage (roll the appropriate dice). An Acrobatics check allows for half-damage. Run a skill challenge. Options include Endurance and Athletics (dig their way out), Dungeoneering (notice which rocks are safe to move), History (stories of a group of cave-in survivors present inspiration regarding your current situation), and Healing (you notice one of the player’s injuries is far more serious than it looked – the rockfall was misleading and damaged them more than they thought – you save them from internal bleeding).
Building encounters in the Mines of Belness is easy. Take your stereotypical mine-shaft, subterranean adventure design, and riddle it with mirror crystal. Have short range weapons suddenly reach far away changes everything, both for the players and the monsters. Rather than use mirror crystal abundantly throughout your campaign, just run five or six encounters here, where the mirror crystal makes sense and doesn’t feel contrived. Your PCs will get a chance to play with the new battlefield dynamic, and then they can move on.
* As seen in the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, page 68.
** Clock and watchmaker.